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Collaborative Working Unit

Joint working agreements

Developing agreements between voluntary or community organisations

What is collaborative working?

How this guidance can help

NCVO defines collaborative working as partnership

between voluntary or community organisations.
An organisation may work with one other partner
organisation or may belong to a wider
consortium. Organisations can work together in a
spectrum of ways from informal networks to joint
delivery of projects. They can collaborate for a
range of purposes for a fixed time or as a
permanent arrangement.

This document aims to guide organisations

developing their own agreements with partners in
the voluntary and community sector. While it
identifies key areas to include, it does not provide
a template. The content of a joint working
agreement should be tailored to the specific needs
and circumstances of your collaboration, following
considered input by the partner organisations and
professional advice where necessary.

Collaboration should be in the best interests of

your beneficiaries, making your work more
effective or efficient and contributing to the
objectives set down in your organisations
governing document. Trustees are responsible for
ensuring that their organisation acts legally and
that professional advice is taken where relevant.

This guidance is no substitute for legal advice.

NCVOs checklist, Should you collaborate? Key
questions helps organisations make informed
decisions about whether collaborative working
will help you meet your aims.
Please visit for
this checklist and models of the different ways
that voluntary or community organisations can
work together.
This guidance is online at

Joint working agreements

An agreement which covers collaborative working
may be known as a
working, joint working or
partnership agreement or protocol

memorandum of understanding (MoU)

service level agreement (SLA)
joint venture agreement

SLAs often commit organisations to specific

targets or quality standards while MoUs are often
used for more informal relationships, but the
above terms are not mutually exclusive.
Legal advice is essential to ensure that the
agreement you devise meets the specific needs
of your collaboration and sufficiently covers
your organisation in risk areas. Advice is also
recommended on how contract law affects
your agreement.

Legal partnerships
Some of these arrangements will create
enforceable rights and obligations and others
will not. In particular, beware of the word
partnership as it has a specific legal meaning
with profound legal implications. A legal
partnership is always created when two or more
people work together with a view to making a
surplus. The problem with a legal partnership is
that partners are jointly and separately responsible
for all the partnerships debts and liabilities. A
creditor can sue the more affluent partner, recover
its claim, and leave the partner to try and recover
the appropriate share of the debt from the other
partner(s). If you intend to establish a legal
partnership, consider using a limited liability
partnership (LLP).
In this publication the word partnership is not
used in its legal sense.

Why is an agreement a good idea?

Trust plays an important part in relationships
between organisations. However, even where there
is trust on which to build, a written agreement can
help you avoid misunderstandings. It provides a
common reference point, useful to guide the
collaboration on a daily basis in addition to
occasions when confusion arises. If staff or
trustees change, the agreement can be crucial
to maintaining mutual understanding and
expectations between partners.
It is good practice to define roles and responsibilities
and the boundaries that separate your joint work
from the ongoing operations of each partner so
that all parties are clear. The process of discussing
what goes into your agreement is a good way for
partners to build their relationship and to develop
joint ownership of collaborative work.
Your agreement could also be used to explain to
funders/commissioners how collaboration works.

How can you determine how formal your

agreement should be?
Organisations should identify and assess the risks
involved before they start working collaboratively
and trustees are responsible for ensuring this is
done at a level suitable for the nature and scale of
the proposed collaboration. Your joint working
agreement should be proportionate to the level of
risk in your collaboration and the resources you
have invested in it. The greater the risk, the more
formal your agreement needs to be. Your trustees
have final responsibility for this decision.

Is an agreement legally necessary?

Verbal agreements may have legal standing if
challenged, but written agreements are more
reliable. If you intend your agreement to be legally
binding, then it is, and will almost certainly be
subject to contract law. Organisations must
determine whether they share this intention at
the outset so legal advice is recommended.
Partners should understand the extent of the
undertakings made in binding agreements.
The Charity Commission publishes guidance on
Charities and Contracts

How do you produce your agreement?

It is best to compile your agreement jointly with
partners as the process is as important as the
finished document itself. The process gives
partners the opportunity to get to know each
others ways of working and to discuss all the
areas that are later documented.
will be involved in drawing up your
will you draw it up? Face to face meetings
are best to allow for frank discussion, with draft
text circulated around all partners.
you use a facilitator who is not involved in
the collaboration?

you need to take professional advice? Whether

legal or financial, choose a neutral adviser who
is familiar with the voluntary and community
sector and agreed by all partners. You may also
want to take advice as an individual organisation.
Once you have finalised and agreed the text, the
document should be formally accepted by a
representative of each of the partners. This is
usually the senior staff member responsible for
overseeing the joint work such as a chief executive
and/or your chair or another trustee from each
This can be done by:

signing the agreement

letters/emails confirming the
acceptance of the agreement in the
minutes of a meeting
Each partner should have a copy of the final
agreement and any updated versions that follow.

What to include
This list is not a comprehensive guide to the
content of your agreement, but considering all
these areas will help you reach informed decisions
about what to include. Incorporate the content
relevant to you. Other sections may need to be
added depending on the nature of your
collaboration or the requirements of funders.

Type of agreement between Names of the
partners for Name of the collaboration/partnership.

Explanations of terms used.

outline of shared purpose underpinning
your collaboration. What are you aiming to
achieve together?
objectives: avoid general overarching
statements which may conceal differences
of opinion.
outlines of partners individual vision,
mission and values.

How can you use your agreement?

Use your agreement as a practical reference tool. It
can help you review how well the collaboration is
working. This way staff will be more likely to bear
in mind how they are working collaboratively in all
aspects of their joint work.
new staff need to be given a copy as part
of their induction?
do you need to publicise its existence to?
Circulating your agreement beyond the staff
directly involved in the joint work can help all
staff present the work to external audiences.
agreement should be a living document. Set
dates to assess how well it reflects the way that
partners wish to work together and how well the
relationship is going. Any changes made to the
agreement should be discussed and agreed using
the same process as for the original document.

Benefits of collaboration to each partner.

Duration: how long will the collaboration last?
The agreement

What is the purpose of the agreement?

Do you intend it to be legally binding?
it create a partnership? (see Joint working
agreements above)
What activities does it cover?
Who is it for/relevant to?
For how long is the agreement valid?
When and how will you review it?

Roles and responsibilities

what is expected from each
partner? You may choose to attach specific
outputs and delivery timetables separately.
Partner X agrees to
Partner Y agrees to
Obligations of Partner X
Service to be provided by Partner Y
any quality standards you agree to meet
or performance measures you will use.
of decision-making process. Consider
the number and roles of people required to
legitimise a decision. Do you require unanimity?
one organisation make commitments which
bind all partners? What are the limits to this?
When do partners have the right to be consulted?
List the areas where decisions cannot be taken
without the express agreement of partner/s.
of interest: state that partners
agree to be transparent on matters concerning
the collaboration and to declare conflicts of

Do you see the partners as equal?

What is the role of the accountable body? See
roles and responsibilities below for

you use a steering group to oversee your

who will sit on it?
What will their role be? What decision-making
powers will they have? See Meetings below.
role will your trustees have? How much
time do you expect them to contribute?
Your trustees should discuss the collaboration
before it begins as part of their duty to assess
risk and ensure their organisation acts legally.
Thereafter, the level of trustee involvement
necessary depends on the scale of your project.
Trustees need to be kept informed, but may
not need to actually sign the agreement.

Costs and assets

will source or provide and pay for facilities
or support used by the collaboration? E.g.
premises, equipment, phone line, consultants.
these assets then become the property of
the collaboration, ie. jointly owned, or remain
owned by one partner? If jointly owned, can
each partner use them? Establishing who owns
what will be helpful when the collaboration
has copyright on written material resulting
from the collaboration?

Who owns the intellectual property rights?

more detail.

Accountability: roles and responsibilities

Liaison: who is the designated point of contact
for the work in each organisation?
How much management time do you expect
each partner to give to the collaboration?

who will legally employ staff working

on your collaboration?
Who will line manage them?
How will their time be divided between
partners? Will they work in more than one
Please visit for
more on staffing collaborative work.

Your accounting arrangements should incorporate

the requirements of your funders. Charities must
also account for their collaborative projects in line
with the Charities Statement of Recommended
Practice (Charities SORP). Professional advice is
recommended to ensure compliance.
Your funder may stipulate that it liaises with just
one organisation, the accountable or lead body,
making them financially accountable to the funder
or commissioner for the receipt of funding and the
funded work. The accountable body carries the
bulk of the risk, but it can share this risk among
partners by setting them conditions for their
receipt of funding.

each partners specific liability, including

liability for the defaults of other partners, as
agreed with funders.
the responsibilities of the accountable body,
e.g. reporting to the funder according to an agreed
schedule, circulating reports among the partners
for them to sign off before they are submitted.
Other questions for the accountable body include:
many payments to partners will you make,
of how much and at what intervals?

Will you make payments subsequent to

provision of monitoring data to ensure prompt
provision of information?

Monitoring and audit

Partners should agree to:

keep records for monitoring purposes

certain information at set times in a
set format
to additional requests for information,
e.g. from the accountable body, direct from the
funder or from regulators
copies of annual accounts to the
accountable body
in evaluating the joint work to assess
how the partnership is achieving its aims

If there is no requirement for one organisation to

act as accountable body, you still need to allocate
financial and co-ordinating responsibilities
amongst the partners.

What will the audit arrangements be for your

joint project?

Questions for all partners include:

What financial information will the accountable

body provide to partners to give each party the
information it needs for its own reporting?

will you determine and divide

management costs?
management charge will be allocated to
the accountable body?

Other kinds of accountability

How will any earned income be divided?

will happen to underspent funds, e.g. will
they be returned to the projects central funds to

There may be legal and regulatory requirements

to be met specific to your subsector in addition to
the requirements of the Charity Commission and
other regulators. For instance, which organisation
takes legal responsibility for looking after children,
ensuring staff and volunteers are CRB checked, and
whose child protection policy is to be followed?

Which partners are undertaking which other costs?

be incorporated into next years budget? Do

funders agree to this?

How often will you review spending?

will you agree next years budget? e.g. by
the last quarter of the previous project year.

one partner take responsibility for
identifying funding sources and securing future
grants or contracts?

How will you co-ordinate this work?

time spent on this be incorporated into
payment made to the partner responsible?

Communicating with partners

will you communicate with partners about
the progress of your project?
you share additional information as a
commitment to learning from each other?

much information will you share about

clients? How will you handle confidentiality?
You need to comply with data protection law: how
will you collect, handle, store and use any personal
data which needs to be shared among partners?
Who will be told what, by whom, when and how?

How will you make referrals between partners?

Main lines of communication in a joint project an example

Organisation A

Organisation B



Chief Executive

Chief Executive


Line Manager

Line Manager

Project Worker

Project Worker

As a partnership, you may want to state minimum
attendance at meetings as a condition of
involvement in a partnership.

How often will you meet?

Who is expected to attend?
Who will chair and note action points?
you undertake to send substitutes when
main representatives cannot attend?

Dispute resolution
will you address misunderstandings/conflict?
E.g. mediation, professional arbitration. How will
you pay for this?
you use sanctions if a partner breaches the
what circumstances would you ask a
partner to withdraw from the collaboration?
Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution

Where will you meet?

Legal clauses
Public Relations
will you refer to the collaboration in
publicity material? E.g. name of collaboration,
use and order of logos. Where you need to
follow your organisations own branding policy,
make sure all partners discuss what this
will you share publicity costs? If partners
jointly own a brand, you may want to ensure
that each partner contributes equally to the
costs of producing publicity material.

Exit strategy
what circumstances will you mutually
decide to end the collaboration?

Under what conditions will your organisation

withdraw from the collaboration?

many months notice will organisations give

their partners?

Other areas you may consider include the

following. Take legal advice on whether and how
they apply to your joint work.

Right to sub-contract
Right to inspect each others books and records
Data protection
Representations and warranties
majeure: removes liability where agreed
activities cannot be carried out due to barriers
outside the partners control
basis for the agreement, e.g. this agreement
is governed by English law
Contact details of partner organisations

Who will decide? How will you decide?

What will happen to staff?

will you divide assets and liabilities when
the collaboration ends?
will you handle any costs associated with

Job title
on behalf of Partner organisation

Further advice and information


Collaborative Working Unit

telephone 020 7520 2440

NCVO cannot accept liability arising from reliance

on this information. It is for guidance only and
should not replace legal advice.

Charity Commission contact centre

telephone 0870 333 0123
NCVOs HelpDesk
telephone 0800 2 798 798
textphone 0800 01 88 111
Local support
Councils for Voluntary Service
Rural Community Councils
More guidance on agreements
The Princes Trust see
Common cause, then Our delivery partners, then
Making partnerships work
Partnership between the voluntary and
public sectors see Guidance, then
Setting up a partnership
The Compact
The Employers Organisation for Local

The Collaborative Working Unit offers
information and advice to help voluntary
and community organisations make
decisions about whether and how to work
The Unit serves the managers and trustees
of voluntary organisations and
infrastructure bodies as well as engaging
with funders and policy makers.

July 2006

The Collaborative Working Unit is supported

by the Baring Foundation, the Bridge House
Trust and the LloydsTSB Foundation.

Collaborative Working Unit

NCVO, Regents Wharf
8 All Saints Street
London N1 9RL
telephone: 020 7520 2440